Job hunting can be an arduous task that involves a great deal of personal reflection. What is it that compels us to choose one job over another? How can we know that the choice we are making is the right one?

HBS and HBX Disruptive Strategy Professor Clayton Christensen reflected on the larger question of career happiness in his HBR article and subsequent book "How Will You Measure Your Life?," as well as in the LinkedIn Pulse post "How to hire your employer." 

Renowned for his application of jobs to be done theory in the consumer products and service industries, Christensen used this framework and others to explore how we can create a career trajectory that will bring us happiness and fulfillment.

Some lessons from that research:

1) Look at each opportunity through the lens of "job-to-be-done"

We tend to think about companies as hiring employees, but Christensen argues that the savvy job-seeker takes just as seriously the idea of 'hiring' the company. A newly-minted accounting graduate might make very different choices depending on whether the 'job to be done' of her first job out of college is to pay down her student loans, allow her to live near an ailing relative, or enable her to explore a new part of the country (or another country entirely) in her downtime.

"When you make a choice to accept a new job, yes, the company is hiring you, but you’re also hiring the company. You’re trying to make progress in your career and in your life," he said. "If you want to be sure you’re making a good choice, you better know what job you’re hiring your company to do for you...It’s seldom as simple as the right title and salary – those are just the functional dimensions of the job to be done. But what about the emotional and social ones?"

2) Have a strategy, but also be ready to iterate

While it's important to create a career roadmap based on one's personal balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, an ability to recognize and act on unexpected or "emergent" opportunities allows for the best chance of long-term professional fulfillment. 

Christensen recounts his early deliberate strategy of wanting to become a newspaper editor, but how a series of emergent opportunities to work in consulting, as an entrepreneur, and then pursue a PhD led him to a new deliberate strategy of focusing on academia. 

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3) Seek out intrinsic, in addition to extrinsic, rewards

Salary, bonuses, and other financial compensation enable a particular lifestyle and confer a certain status. At the end of the day, though, enduring happiness derives not from these external markers of success but from aspects of the work itself. 

Christensen suggests asking the following questions (among others) about the current or prospective job: Is the work meaningful? Is this job giving me a chance to develop? Am I learning?

Having an understanding of what you are truly motivated by will guide you towards making choices that will lead to a fulfilling and meaningful career. 

Katie Alex Stevens

About the Author

Katie Alex Stevens is an Associate Product Manager at HBX, working on Disruptive Strategy and Becoming a Better Manager, among other courses. Before completing her MBA, she trained as a medievalist and classicist in the US and UK, and still enjoys a good dusty tome - preferably with a glass of Greek wine by her side and her new puppy by her feet!